Maine-made treats for the holidays
For Christmas last year, my shop-local plan had me assembling gift baskets brimming with foods for several families on my list. Trips to Micucci and Browne Trading yielded enough spices to outfit my brother's new cottage, and presented rare ingredients and off-center wines to my folks. This year, it's more likely to be a large stocking rather than a basket, and will be stuffed with more locally sourced elements than last.
SPICE UP THE HOLIDAYS: Give a DennyMike gift pack.
Perhaps my upbringing as a preacher's kid has me advocating for the clergy. My own dogma aside, Pastor Chuck is a real, honest-to-God ordained Episcopal priest who started his own apple orchard in Cushing several years ago. He now tends to the orchard full-time, and has several delicious offerings, including an outrageously divine apple butter. Not familiar? You can find the eight-ounce jars for $6.95 at several retail locations around Portland, as well as online at pastorchucksorchards.com. Paired with Robinhood Free Meetinghouse 72-Layer Cream Cheese Biscuits ($5.99 per package), it might just be a taste of heaven on Earth. The prepackaged frozen biscuits come in a few different varieties, but it may be impossible to keep them cold while under the tree. Definitely unwrap this present early!
Many friends and family from "away" ask me for Maine maple syrup, and I am always happy to oblige. There are countless producers all around the state who sell maple syrup in various sizes of (sometimes-fancy) glass bottles. Looking for value? Opt for the less-expensive plastic jugs, and maybe even shy away from "A" grade syrup. Many of my baker friends say that the "B" grade tastes a little toothier, less sweet, and more of maple than its pricier sibling. Prices from sugarhouses such as Strawberry Hill Farm and Maine Maple Products usually run around $20 for a quart, and can be found at stores large and small all over the state.
People with multiple first names often conjure up visions of country music stars. In this case, Mainer DennyMike is indeed a little bit country, but he sings through his mastery of sauces and spices. Taking his cue from his time away in Mexico and Texas, DennyMike first brought his classic barbecue seasonings to the public at a smokehouse and deli location in Old Orchard Beach. He now spends his days traveling fairs and festivals all over New England and beyond, sharing his secrets like the "Hot and Nasty" sauce and the aptly named "Chick Magnet" poultry rub. A holiday gift pack of two sauces and two rubs sells for $19.95 and can be found at dennymikes.com, as well as at Rosemont Market and Pat's Meat Market.
Apart from stocking stuffers, consider bringing a gift of Maine seafood if you are traveling regionally for the holidays. The Maine Lobster Council's "Lobster for Thanksgiving" promotion was geared toward a bird-less holiday table, and there is no reason to stop just because Turkey Day is over. Soft-shell lobsters are selling at amazingly low prices at fish markets such as the revered Harbor Fish on the Portland waterfront, and fresh lobsters can travel for eight or 12 hours if properly packed. The holiday season runs concurrently with another joyous time: Maine shrimp season. These sweet little prizes are a delicacy, and are excellent on their own, as well as stuffed in lobster, cooked in chowder, and sautûed atop salads. Whole shrimp can be bought for a song, and the still-reasonable shrimp meat can be frozen and thawed on demand.
Todd Richard can be reached at email@example.com.
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